Friday, May 6, 2011

Brahim Fribgane & Ibrahim Maalouf Animate NYC's World Nomads Morocco Fest

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

This year's World Nomads festival in New York City is focused on Morocco--timed just in advance of that country's major music festivals:  Mawazine (May 20-28, Rabat), Fes Sacred Music Festival (June 3-11, Fes), and the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival (June 23-26, Essaouira).  Afropop will attend and report from Mawazine this year.  But for New Yorkers who can't get to Morocco, the World Nomads festival is a splendid alternative.  It kicked off on April 30 with a transcendent performance from the Orchestra of Fes with Francoise Atlan, a brilliant interpreter of Sephardic Jewish song, as the featured soloist.  Then, last night (May 5), came Brahim Fribgane and Ibrahim Maalouf with a sensational amalgam of Berber (Amazight) music, Arabic classical music and jazz.

Frank Woeste, Ibrahim Maalouf, Brahim Fribgane

The concert took place at Lincoln Center's David Rubenstein Atrium, part of the Target Free Thursdays series, free and open to the public.  The show started with Brahim Fribgane alone on the stage with an electric oud (very cool instrument!).  Fribgane is a Moroccan Berber composer and multi-instrumentalist living in New York, where he blends various traditions in his work.  He started with a traditional 7/8 houaria rhythm, accompanying his fine feathery oud playing with a relaxed vocal, gentle and reedy, not unlike the late Hamza El Din's hypnotic solo work from across the continent in what was once the kingdom of Nubia.  This performance had a similar feeling of ancient but timeless balladry.

Brahim Fribgane

Next, Fribgane brought up the other members of his trio.  He switched to frame drum, and added a second frame drum (Ahmed Sahel) and the High Atlas Berber lute called lutar (Abderahim Boutat).  This absolutely mesmerizing trio played three long pieces that proved the celebratory high point of the night.  This music is urgent and animated, with rolling rhythms, chant-like unison vocals sung by all three men and a restless spirit that stirred this midtown crowd to a near frenzy.  The lutar has a bright dry attack that really cuts to the bone--tremendously evocative.  If Afropop had known about this group prior to making our recent Berber Rising II program, they would certainly have been featured.  Suffice it to say that planning is already underway for Berber Rising III...

Abderahim Boutat, Ahmed Sahel, Brahim Fribgane

Next came French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, who creates a remarkable blend of Arabic classical music, maqam, and jazz.  He noted with pride that this was only his third New York appearance.  He also said that Arab people love to party and celebrate, but that he had opted to open in a spiritual vein.  He then played a set of 5 solo trumpet variations, composed by Robert Henderson back in the Vietnam era.  It was a bold choice given the ecstatic vibe the Berber trio had just generated.  Maalouf moved through passages of contemplative abstraction, nervously darting melodies, and blaring long tones--all part of the "schizophrenia" Henderson sought to evoke.  This took some adjusting for the audience, but the performance was ultimately received with evident enthusiasm.  Maalouf's tone on the trumpet, by turns taut, dry, and lustrous proved impossible to resist. 

Ibrahim Maalouf

Maalouf moved into a more traditional Lebanese mode, beautifully rendering the quarter-tones of Arabic music on his instrument.  He brought on his pianist, Frank Woeste, and they offered a nuanced performance of a song Maalouf said sounded more like Led Zeppelin when played by his full ensemble.  Then he announced, "It's time to party."  Fribgane joined in on cajon and the trio played a lengthy piece with many moods, ultimately settling into a funky groove--kind of early Keith Jarrett in an Arabic mode.  It was a strong and spirited ending to a fascinating night of music.

And more to come from World Nomads Morocco.  Tonight Moroccan MC Soultana throws down at Joe's Pub.

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